Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Most Epic Castle I've Ever Seen

To say that Corvin Castle, also known as Hunedoara Castle, is "kind of cool" is like saying that space is "kind of big" - it just doesn't cut it. I've been to castles where I thought that it might have been neat to be a ruler there, or be a wealthy gentlemen who was garbed in only gilded attire during the Dark Ages, but when I got to Corvin Castle...well, this is the type of place that rivals any of the elaborate sets from Game of Thrones. Forget about living there in the past, I'll move in tomorrow.

It was just a few days ago that Bri and I drove hours from Sibui to get a glimpse of this, and my goodness, we were far from disappointed.

The castle stands guard in present day Romania, but at the time of its construction, in the middle of the 15th century, it was a masterful addition to the already powerful Kingdom of Hungary. Even today, it's touted as one of the largest castles in Europe. Due to its strategic position on a hilltop, it was a place of importance for quite some time before the construction of this castle, being the site of a keep commissioned by Charles I beforehand. However, it was really in the Middle Ages that Corvin Castle become the highly formidable, military minded structure that stands today. With just the right mix of renaissance and gothic architecture, it's pretty much what you expect a superb castle in Transylvania to look like.

It's said that Vlad the Impaler (the figure Dracula was supposedly the inspiration for) was held prisoner here for 7 years by the ruler of the castle, John Hunyadi. In general, there are many legends and tales about the castle that lead many to believe it's haunted. Several paranormal/haunted shows have made their way to Corvin to test the theories, and probably for good reason. The impressive exterior of the castle was enough to make me believe just about anything about the castle, and Bri was adept at convincing me that this castle was, in fact, Hogwarts.

Unfortunately, many sights in Romania haven't exactly been restored or kept in superb condition - parts of the city of Braşov come to mind. It's not that they're in poor condition, but compared to the work that countries like Austria, Slovenia, Germany, France, Italy, Czech Republic etc. have done, they haven't been able to attain the same standard. Thus, it was pleasing to see that effort had gone in to keeping Corvin Castle in great condition. Some of the restoration was a touch cheesy in the interior, such as the prisoner mannequin in the prison, but most of it was tasteful, and added to the ambiance. The interior had much to offer, and set my imagination running wild.

Driving there, Bri and I kept on thinking "for all this driving we're doing...this better be something special." And, as I've noted and you can see, it certainly was. After spending a week in Romania, I'm fascinated by how little people seem to know about the country. Frankly, I only knew the name of the capital until I started researching the best way to approach a road trip in the country, and now the names of cities, towns and castles roll off my tongue like I've known them my whole life. Romania seems to be overlooked by the tourist beacons that surround it, and its places like this, Corvin Castle, that prove that people need to seriously consider an attitude shift. My advice? Head to Romania while it's still inexpensive, undiscovered, and full of mystery and adventure.

Don't forget to stop by Corvin Castle; you'll have this image etched into your memory for as long as you live...

Thursday, October 8, 2015

A Somewhat Spontaneous Exploratory Poem On Travel

Well, I have a moment to spare, and seeing as how I'm not particularly good at relaxing, I thought I'd write a poem about what it is that travel means to me. That is to say, when I'm sharing where I may or may not be going next, sometimes I get raised eyebrows, with the question, "why?" - and I suppose this is an attempt to answer that question, and explain what travel means to me. Perhaps it's also an attempt to make use of time that I might otherwise have used to relax...My goodness, can you imagine?

A Rocking Boat

It's the sip of a coffee with a taste unknown, 
A walk in a room with a glittering throne, 
The taste of salt water on carefree lips, 
Recording a movie to post a good clip. 

Last minute packing, no care in the world, 
 To try something new, a passion unfurled, 
Beaches too hot to walk on barefoot, 
Knowing its better to move than stay put.

A rocking boat in the waves of the night, 
The sincere excitement surrounding a flight, 
Arrive at a hotel, it's dirty indeed, 
Trying to let go of the thing we call "greed." 

The first time you see a place from your dreams, 
 In the book of your life, you discover new themes, 
A mountain, mist-covered, perched up above, 
To question your knowledge of the meaning of love. 

Watching a plan come to gleaming fruition, 
Eating a meal and forgetting nutrition, 
A brilliant glance of water and sun, 
That feeling you get, when you finally run. 

Saturday, September 19, 2015

10 Photos That Capture Copenhagen

Copenhagen is a city that everyone should visit. I'm not referring to your average tourist either, I'm talking about urban planners, engineers, mayors and heads of state. Copenhagen is a model of what a city can accomplish with the right confluence of foresight in planning, access to wealth, and a desire to ever improve. It seems that whenever I'm reading a study about the results of an experimental study that tests a shorter work week or something decidedly progressive, it was done in Copenhagen, or at least not far away.

Having lived in Oslo in 2010, I was able to visit this city back then, but I'm not quite sure I had the lens to understand what a masterpiece Copenhagen was and continues to be. Visiting hundreds of cities around the world, then arriving back provided a more than adequate lens to appreciate what I was seeing, and perhaps I can also attest to the fact that I may have matured a fair bit since I was 19 - at least I certainly hope so.

The city operates seamlessly, and has just the right balance of historical intrigue and modern innovation. I've selected 10 photos from my visit in late June earlier this year that hope to portray precisely that notion.

1. Strøget, Europe's longest pedestrian street, is a marvel to walk down. Constructed in 1962, it was one of the first streets specifically constructed for pedestrians. Copenhagen is always seemingly ahead of the curve. 

2. Rosenborg Castle, a renaissance castle from the 17th century. When a castle is politely nestled into your downtown core, you've got something special going on. 

3. Tivoli Gardens, the second oldest amusement park in the world, opened in 1843. It's also the second most visited seasonal theme park in the world, and adds undeniably charm to the heart of the city. 

4. Nyhavn had to be my favourite area in Copenhagen, which isn't altogether unsurprising considering it's a 17th century waterfront entertainment district.

5. Stormgade. You can be sure that this effect was designed intentionally. Everything in Copenhagen is built with creative intentionality. 

6. Near Christanborg Palace. Classic Danish architecture and modern touches of design make Denmark a pleasant place for a stroll. 

7. City Hall Square. Arguably the major focal point of the city. 

8. The area of Nyhavn was nearly enough to convince me to pack up my life in Istanbul, and hop on the first plane back to Copenhagen. 

9. Børsen, also known as the Old Stock Exchange, is a prime example of the fact that Copenhagen has been pushing architectural boundaries since at least the middle of the 17th century. 

10. It's only fitting that I end of with a photo of Nyhavn. This photos contains churns more emotion for me than I could put into words. 

Saturday, August 29, 2015

8 Reasons I know I'm Canadian When I'm Travelling

Canadians, like it or not, are a particular bunch, complete with their own culture, ideas, and superstitions. Honestly, It never occurred to me until I started travelling that "being Canadian" was actually a thing, but, of course, it is. People I would meet in hostels would have knowledge of all these stereotypes of "the Canadian," which was essentially an image of a polite, maple syrup loving, nature experienced lumberjack. It all got me thinking, and I started to find myself doing something abroad and stopping to note, "my goodness am I ever Canadian right now!"

If you're wondering how I know, wonder no further. Here are 8 reasons I'm sure I'm a Canadian when I'm on the road.

Busan, Korea - 2012

1) The first word I learn in another language is typically "sorry." 

I wish I was kidding. I suppose the thought process is, if I can't say hello in that language, at least I can adequately apologize for that. It was humourous though in Asia, when I kept apologizing for bumping into people in crowded situations, and people would look back as if they were utterly confused as to why I was apologizing. I suppose it's better safe than...sorry?

I'll just stick with promiňte, thanks.

2) I still, for some reason, expect people to follow traffic rules. 

In Canada, you can be relatively sure that if you cross the street and a car is coming, they may have some sympathy and slow down. Elsewhere? Don't count on it. In some cases, (I'm thinking Turkey and Italy namely) they may actually speed up. It's something engrained in me from my Canadian childhood - I'm still positive pedestrians have agency. However, there is hope, another year in Istanbul and I'll likely just forget traffic rules ever existed at all. 
Bangkok, Thailand - 2012

3) I sweat more than others...

It's cold in Canada, alright? 

Sweating away in Granada, Nicaragua - 2014

4) Hours in transit just don't faze me. 

When you're used to the length of a Canadian road trip, it turns out you're well prepared for pretty much any other kind. In my teenage years, a spontaneous trip to visit a friend in "nearby" Montreal might cost me 6 hours on the road, and it wasn't something I thought twice about. The sheer enormity of Canada, and navigating it in my past, has made me patient on planes, trains, boats and whatever else you can throw at me in the present. 

Zagreb, Croatia - 2010

5) Large animals in other countries, don't seem all that large to me.

Enough said.

6) I'm a beer snob. 

Even beautiful scenery doesn't allow me to turn off my Canadian beer snobbery. It's not something I have to confront much in regions such as Central Europe, but in most of the rest of the world I'm complaining. I find myself saying things like: 

"I know it's hot here, and this is refreshing, but where's the flavour?"
"You'd think they could have added some hops to this." 
"I guess they were going for a 50/50 beer and water mixture on this one." 
"Do you think, by any chance, they sell craft beer?" 

Now, I know I'm a beer snob because I occasionally make these comments on remote islands where I should just be happy that they even have beer. I can't help it folks, it's in my blood. 

Gili Trawangan, Indonesia - 2012

7) When I talk about "the cottage," people have no idea what I'm talking about. 

"Wait, so you have a house...and house in the woods?" 

The new cottage - 2015

8) I get giddy when I see bacon on a menu. 

This is no exaggeration. Around bacon something just happens to me, and I've seen this phenomenon with other Canadians as well. Canadians and bacon go together like Hansel and Gretel, perhaps even better. Naturally, it's hard to come by in Turkey, but if I can find it anywhere my eyes light up like a kid on Christmas, and then I think, "damn, I'm really a Canadian, aren't I?" 

You know it's not such a bad list really and, frankly, I'm happy to feel Canadian when I'm not on home soil. It goes to show, we bring a little bit of home with us, wherever we are. 

Are you Canadian? Feel free to add to the list in the comments below. Perhaps there's a part two worth thinking about. 

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Alaçatı - A Turkish Jewel

Currently, I've been travelling around Italy for a little less than a month now, and it's been lovely to see so many new faces along the way. One thing that almost everyone I've met has in common is that when I mention that I live in Turkey, they seem to draw a relative blank as what that actually must be like, or at least offer me a puzzling look. The most common reaction is a raised eyebrow accompanied by the question, "why?"

Unfortunately, much of the press about Turkey tends to be negative, which is understandable in one sense, but unfair in another. It's unfair as many of the joys and pleasures of Turkey are well hidden behind the headlines about protests, unrest and violence. It's vitally important that those issues are brought to the international stage, but it's also important to make the international community aware that Turkey has ever so much to offer, and many places worth visiting and experiencing.

Without question, Alaçatı is a town that's worth visiting, and not just if you live in relatively nearby Istanbul like myself. This Aegean town, on the western coast of the provence of Izmir, is a quaint, charming place that allows you to quickly forget about the chaos of whatever city you left to get there (this is a particularly inviting thought when you live in Istanbul.) It has been famous throughout Turkey and surrounding countries for over a century due to that aforementioned charm, which is largely due to its beautiful architecture, narrow cobblestoned streets, quality food, as well as nearby vineyards. More recently, it has reinvented itself as a wind and kitesurfing capital, something I hope to go back and investigate for myself.

The town itself has an interesting history and feeling. Like many places in this area, Alaçatı had a large Greek population at one point, though not after the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, which led to the massive population exchange between the Greeks and Turks. Turks came over across the Aegean to continue the legacy of the town, much of which was built by the Greeks. Today, Alaçatı is pouring with Turkish hospitality, and its proximity to a slew of desirable beaches make it a top destination. Nearby Çeşme can be reached by a short bus and is gaining popularity by the day, especially among Istanbul's Turkish elite. While certainly not part of the Turkish elite, we did spend some time there as well while soaking up plenty of sun and enjoying the refreshing water.

The list of places I've been so far in Turkey isn't exactly exhaustive just yet, but I can safely say that Alaçatı currently reigns supreme as my favourite Turkish town. Bri and I went with some of our best pals, Anjali and Jamie, and it really couldn't have been a better visit.

The good news is that the historical significance of the town is well recognized in Turkey, and its stone houses are in the plans to be preserved for the foreseeable future. Furthermore, any new buildings have to adhere to the town's architectural style - a style well worth protecting.

The allure of a place like Alaçatı is that every street seems worth stopping on, if only for a quick cup of Turkish çay. The list of things to see isn't exactly expansive, which forces you to take notice of all that doesn't normally make it into a guide book. You look for warm conversations, blooming flowers and climbing vines, a seat cushion with an intricate pattern, or a local restaurant with inviting smells. Sometimes it's far too easy to forgot about the things that are perhaps most worth remembering, and, in Alaçatı, you'll find them.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

China, The Lost Photos: Part 2 (Tibet)

Welcome to part two of the Lost Photo Series, which, thus far, has only touched upon my experiences in Beijing. The simple premise of these posts is the re-discovery of a selection of photos that I thought I had lost altogether. All the photos are from a trip to China in 2009 taken by a naive and not particularly well traveled teenager, also known as myself. 

It's been an interesting experience going through these old photos. For one, I'm a much different photographer now who focuses on different things (with a much better camera!). At this time, I think I merely wanted to capture that I was there, and now I look to capture why I'm there. Luckily, I was able to sift through the electronic stack of photos, and find a few that I think are worth sharing. 

This isn't chronological, but this is the part two that I want. The photos below capture the road trip we took from Langzhou, southwest towards and into Tibet. Again, I was with two of my close compadres, Lawrence and Mike. The green, jutted mountains were like none I had ever seen. 

At this point in my life, it was all new for me, and there's something rather special about that now that I think about it.

Once into Tibet, we headed for a Tibetan monastery, which was several hours past the border (one that is rather disputed.) The monastery was still very much active, which is why I hesitated to go too trigger happy on the camera, especially in areas where prayers and the like were ongoing.

There was an ornate room near the back of the monastery with gorgeous sculptures. However, what was different about these sculptures was that they were made of cheese. That's right. They were made this way to represent the impermanence and mortality of man. Every year, they tear them down and rebuild them as a meditative exercise. If for some reason I didn't believe it was cheese, the smell was convincing enough, though, admittedly, it wasn't altogether unpleasant.

Driving across the countryside of Tibet was something I won't soon forget, especially the variance in landscape. The road was rocky, in utter disrepair, but the views on either side of that road captured my full attention. There were stray cats fighting in small towns, green and yellow checkered fields, young boys running in front of old buildings, and nomadic peoples roaming at the foot of towering mountains. And this, of course, is an incomplete picture - It's only what I saw with my own eyes during that time period. There is so much more that I can only hope to see another time.

We had the opportunity during our time in Tibet to visit a monastery well off the beaten path. It was a monastery headed up by a Tibetan monk who was in some way connected to Lawrence's family, something we were very fortunate for. He was a kind-hearted man who readily welcomed us into the fold. I remember recalling that he seemed so at peace with himself and his surroundings. He took the time to bless us, and invited us to take part in some Tibetan Buddhist rituals. I became much more engaged and interested in Buddhism when I was living in Korea (2011-2012), and I thought back to this moment as the start of something. At the time, I'm sure I didn't know that, but maybe I felt it. 

These photos were indeed lost for a period of time, but the memories never were. However, In finding them, I also rekindled the memories, which has been a lovely experience. 

Stay tuned for more parts of the Lost Photos Series on the horizon. When? I'm not sure, as I'll be on the road come Monday, but in due time. In the meantime, I'll aim to keep creating more memories. 

Until next time, friends.